Early Tuesday morning, an eight-second clip of garbled white noise swiftly rose to the top of the Canadian iTunes music chart. The clip, vaguely titled “Track 3,” was a simple placeholder on the listing for Taylor Swift’s soon-to-be-released album “1989.”
The track was released because of an apparent glitch in the iTunes system, but nevertheless, its lack of content did nothing to deter countless fans from spending 1.29 Canadian dollars on the download and propelling it into the coveted No. 1 slot.
“Track 3”’s ability to soar atop today’s latest hits on the charts is every bit as impressive as it is confounding — an accomplishment that serves as a true testament to the universal popularity and success of Ms. Swift. But the “Track 3” phenomenon raises an important question: Do fans love Taylor Swift because they love her music, or do fans love Taylor Swift because they love Taylor Swift?
In today’s volatile pop culture climate, image is truly everything. A clever marketing plan and a strong social media presence will make or break a star’s shot at success. Fortunately for Taylor Swift, she has both. The country-turned-pop megastar makes frequent appearances on glossy magazine covers and television programs across the globe. She actively engages in conversations with her fans via Twitter and Instagram. She has invited them to her home, visited them in the hospital and has arrived unexpectedly at a fan’s bridal shower.
She’s known for dancing awkwardly at award shows, for writing relatable tales about love and heartbreak and for posting adorably silly photos of her adorably silly cats. She’s quirky and kind and delightful in all of the best ways. Swift lacks the diva-like qualities held by many of today’s prominent pop songstresses. She has no recorded history of drug or alcohol abuse and the star is best known for staying in with her feline companions, baking sweet treats for her famous friends and posting cozy Instagram photos of her laid-back nights at home.
Despite being one of the most recognizable stars of the decade, Swift somehow manages to maintain a down-to-earth air of relatable charm. Sure — she occasionally performs at the Grammys, she inhabits a multi-million dollar Tribeca penthouse and, as of Tuesday evening, she held three of the top four slots on the American iTunes music chart — but her lifestyle feels somehow attainable. Indeed, her fans sense that if they were to simply follow their dreams and to work as hard as she does, their lives would be no different than hers. And to be perfectly fair and honest, is that so terribly untrue?
Is Taylor Swift’s popularity based more strongly upon her image than it is her talent? I’d have to say that, yes, it probably is. Taylor Swift is undoubtedly talented, and her current status as a pop music icon is proof of that. But talent alone is not what has earned her the undying loyalty and worldwide admiration of millions upon millions of fans. She has her personality, her image and her reputation to thank for all of that. And because those are all products of her own hard work, talent and creativity, is that really any less admirable of an accomplishment?